An English adaptation of a 1743 Commedia dell'arte comedy play by the Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni was certainly not the most likely of sure-fire hits, but Richard Bean's take on Servant of Two Masters for the National Theatre has been making waves – and winning awards – since it opened in June last year.
Whether it was merely a star vehicle for love-him-or-loathe-him James Corden remains to be seen, as it continues its West End run, as well as a UK tour, without him.
In this production, the lead role of Francis Henshall is played by telly's Rufus Hound (a comedian formerly seen on Celebrity Juice) and although admirably funny there are moments when he's channelling Corden so much, you can almost see and hear the larger lad. Slapstick and physical humour abound and Hound's finest harlequin moments come from the serving of a pub lunch at the end of the first half. If you don't start the interval with a knowing smile, check your pulse.
Loading article content
The Craze are the retro warm-up band and provide punctuation to the farcical events. The early '60s revival music provides a winning soundtrack for variety-led acts, as well as a nice female trio performance in the second half. Edward Bennett as Stanley Stubbers, public schoolboy gone bad, has some of the best lines while his male impersonator counterpart Rachel Crabbe is convincingly played by Rosie Wyatt.
Mistaken identities, lost letters and a happy ending – all with an upbeat soundtrack – make the action, set in a Brighton of yesteryear, come to life. Translating Venetian foibles and follies to gangster London shouldn't work, but it does.